Medicare Primer


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Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home healthcare. Part B covers services such as doctor visits, medical supplies, outpatient care, chiropractic care, lab work, outpatient therapy, behavioral health, and prosthetics, as well as certain preventive services. Medicare Part B will cover most routine medical expenses, as well as ER and urgent care services.


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This type of Medicare health plan is offered by private companies that contract with the government to provide you with all your Part A and Part B benefits. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage 101: A Primer

Medicare Advantage Plans are offered by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare. The plans may also offer prescription drug coverage that follows the same rules as Medicare Prescription Drug Plans.

Pitfalls of Medicare Advantage Plans

You will pay a monthly premium for this type of policy. Most Medigap policies do not pay for prescription drugs. Most people start thinking about Medicare when they are close to age You automatically become enrolled in Medicare Part A and entitled to benefits when you apply and are approved to receive Social Security benefits once you turn Sections What is Medicare? Who is eligible for Medicare? What are the characteristics of people with Medicare? What does Medicare cover?

How much do beneficiaries pay for Medicare benefits?

Medicare: A Primer

What is the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit? What is Medicare Advantage? What types of supplemental insurance do beneficiaries have? How do Medicare beneficiaries fare with respect to access to care?

Payments are currently based on benchmark rates, plan bids, quality ratings, and enrollee risk scores, but the formulas are slightly different for local plans and regional plans. Each of these components and payments for the two types of plans is explained below. Plans may charge different premiums and offer different benefits to beneficiaries living in one county than they do beneficiaries in another county within the same service area.


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  5. The majority of local plans are health maintenance organizations HMOs , enrolling 63 percent of all MA enrollees. Regional plans were created in with the intention of expanding access to MA plans for Medicare beneficiaries living in areas local plans were not sufficiently serving, particularly rural areas.

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    In , only 84 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had access to an MA plan; by , the first year regional plans were offered, percent of beneficiaries had access to a plan, and that percentage remained at until when it dropped to 99 percent. Twenty-six regions were created: 11 cover a single state and 11 cover two states; the other four include three or more states, with the largest region, in the less-densely populated upper-Midwest, covering seven states. Regional plans must enroll any beneficiary in the region seeking coverage, and, unlike in local plans, the premiums charged and benefits offered must be uniform throughout the region.

    All regional plans are PPOs and are required to provide some amount of coverage for out-of-network care. This is again in contrast to local plans, which have no such requirement.

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    Most local plans are HMOs, and do not offer out-of-network coverage or offer only limited coverage. The benchmark , which is set on a county level, is the most that a plan will be paid for a beneficiary enrolling in that area and is based on FFS spending. CMS ranks all of the counties each year according to the average FFS expenditure per person and groups the counties into quartiles. The benchmark for the counties in the top quartile with the highest average expenditure will equal 95 percent of the average FFS expenditure in that county.


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    The counties in the bottom quartile lowest average expenditure will receive a benchmark equal to percent of the average FFS expenditure. The calculation of the benchmark is slightly more complicated when a plan chooses to serve more than one county, as most local plans do.

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